Pictured above: Halle Siegel, Mara Friedman, Eva Bogomolny, Lexi Stovsky and Eric Sterin at Shabbat services.
Yesterday, while eating outside at the Phoenix Public Market Cafe, a gust of smoke blew over me. Whenever I smell a campfire, I am always taken back. My eyes didn’t water from the smoke, but because its rustic smell triggers countless camp memories.
It’s funny. When I went to camp, the smell of fire used to drive me nuts. Campfire used to mean not being able to wear my sweatshirt until the next laundry day, or having to live with its scent in my hair for the next few days. Yes, 2016 was the last summer of waiting on laundry day, but it was also the last summer that I got to experience my true “home away from home.” It’s not college, that’s for sure.
Years later, I still can’t get my 10 years of overnight camp out of my head. I often look through my old photos in an attempt to relive the most rewarding, high-energy days of my life.
So, why can a summer camp be so influential to somebody’s life?
1) The community. Expanding your game of Jewish geography is always a good time. By going to camp, you form a community that’s yours. Camp is all about immersion. If you’re there, you’re a part of it.
2) The energy. It’s hard to feel low in a place where people are constantly cheering and laughing over the simplest manners. I promise, you’ll never be more excited about a random food in your life than you will be at camp.
3) “Normal” is overrated. I kid you not, NOTHING at camp is weird. Camp is the time to be the extreme version of yourself. Being unique in encouraged and admired. For example, one day I decided to walk around camp in a penguin suit, and nobody questioned me. Who needs to question a penguin when you can just give a high five?
4) There’s no pressure. Aside from Shabbat, looking “nice” at camp isn’t a thing. You’re spending weeks in a new environment. Take advantage of it and embrace the opportunities. Without social media or technology, people can bond in the rawest ways possible.
5) Lasting friendships. After living with my camp friends for months at a time, I can say they know me better than anyone. Living with people turned me into a more easy-going person. After enduring experiences with the same group of like-minded girls for years straight, you grow together. My camp friends and I have conquered a lot together. While living in a cabin with 10 people (minimum) may seem like an obstacle, it was the months between that was the hard part.
6) The stories. The stories you will come home with make the entire experience worthwhile. Though it may bother the people who don’t understand them, it’ll be that much more special for you and your friends.
7) Respect for nature and the great outdoors. Camp taught me how to utilize and appreciate the environment we live in. Some activities showed me trails to hike through, how to point out poison ivy, and how to build a fire. Living in a cabin in the forest brought me down to my roots. While being outdoors may be “trendy” today, people lack the dirty, hands-on experience. I don’t know very many people who can build a fire with a single match like I can!
8) My independence. I was forced to give up my dependence on my friends at camp because we don’t all have the same interests. While signing up for activities, I was not about to sign up for soccer with my one friend, and she was not about to climb the ropes course with me. By separating, I was able to make new friends and try new things. Another way I gained independence was by leaving home. Sorry mom, but I learned how to make my bed and sweep the floor from my counselors…and only my counselors.
9) Gained creativity. At any camp you may attend, you’ll always have to tap into your imagination. Whether it be for a song, skit, dance, or cheer, your creativity is wanted.
10) The importance of tradition. Knowing traditions make you feel like you’re a part of something. Aside from Jewish holidays with my family, attending camp every year was my first tradition of my own. Being able to rely on something that makes me happy and will inevitably happen is priceless. (aside from the 4th of July food fight) My favorite camp tradition was Shabbat. Shabbat’s tasty food and relaxing aura separated the rest of the week for me. Because of camp, I don’t go a week without doing something to recognize that it is Shabbat.
While I could keep going, I feel like my point is clear. My 10 years at camp may be over, but outgrowing the memories and skills I’ve gained from it is impossible.
Not to mention, listening to the song “Leaving on a Jet Plane” will NEVER get easier.
Mara Friedman is a junior at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.